By Jeff Gerritt, Detroit Free Press
Michigan’s prosecuting attorneys have squashed a needed debate on prison sentencing policies that cost state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year. That may be why, in Gov. Rick Snyder’s otherwise comprehensive message last month on public safety, you didn’t hear a peep about restoring good time, reforming sentencing guidelines or enacting a presumptive parole law.
Refusing to talk about an idea — especially one that works elsewhere — is silly and self-defeating. Muzzling people is no way to decide major policy questions.
Even steely Daniel Heyns, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, feels prosecutorial pressure.
During an hour-long conversation with me last week, Heyns blew off questions about sentencing policies. “Those are contentious, hot-button issues,” he said. “…That’s a more long-term question and debate that’s going to play out in a different arena.”
In other words, he’s no longer talking about it.
Nine months ago, however, Heyns, in another interview with me, did talk. Responding to a question, he told me that good time — a prisoner’s chance to shave limited time off his sentence with good behavior — worked well for county sheriffs and provided a tool for controlling jail conduct. He did not endorse good time but said it ought to be part of the broader debate on public safety and corrections costs.
Heyns could not have been more cautious. Still, prosecutors lit him up for even broaching the subject.